Volume Two — Article 6 Volume 2 | Home

The Righteousness Which is of Faith

graphicPaul was the greatest human teacher that ever lived. God committed the teaching of righteousness by faith to his trust. His understanding of this gospel truth was in advance of all the other apostles. When the Reformers were struggling to get out of the darkness of Romanism, only the writings of Paul could bring them the needed deliverance. It was his clear utterances on "the righteousness which is of faith" that gave birth to the Reformation:

"He [Abraham) received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the faith." Rom. 4:11

"For the promise, that he should be the heir of the world, was not to Abraham, or to his seed, through the law, but through the righteousness of faith." Rom. 4:13

"The Gentiles, which followed not after righteousness, have attained to righteousness, even the righteousness which is of faith." Rom. 9:30

"The righteousness which is of faith speaketh on this wise." Rom. 10:6

"For we through the Spirit wait for the hope of righteousness by faith." Gal. 5:5

"… the righteousness which is of God by faith." Phil. 3:9

"Noah… became heir of the righteousness which is by faith." Heb. 11:7

What Is Righteousness?

It is in the book of Romans, more than any other epistle, that Paul most fully explains the truth of the righteousness which is by faith. “ When Paul speaks of this saving, justifying righteousness, he means nothing but the righteousness of God Himself:

"But now the righteousness of God without the law is manifested . . . even the righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe." Rom. 3:21, 22

God's righteousness was so infinite, so incomprehensible, so beyond the ability of angels to endure, that no language of heaven or earth could describe it. But God unfolded it and put it on display in the gospel of His crucified Son:

"For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek. For therein is the righteousness of God revealed" Rom. 1:16-17

"… being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus: whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in His blood, to declare His righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God; to declare, I say, at this time His righteousness: that He might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus." Rom. 3:24-26

Hanging on the cross for guilty sinners, Christ was the gospel. In this act God revealed His righteousness to angels and to men.

How Much Righteousness?

When God gave His Son to die on behalf of sinful men, He gave His own life and righteousness for their justification. This was so because in Jesus was not only the life of the Father, but the total life of the Father. Jesus could say, "All things that the Father hath are Mine." John 16:15. And Paul declared: "For in Him the complete being of God, by God's own choice, came to dwell." "For it is in Christ that the complete being of the Godhead dwells embodied.” ". . . in Him lie hidden all God's treasures of wisdom and knowledge." Col. 1:19; 2:9, 3, N.E.B.

Jesus Christ was not only perfect, but infinitely perfect. His life was of infinite value because He was the embodiment of divine life and righteousness. He came to the cross and freely gave this life of infinite value for the worthless lives of sinful men. Jesus was the total outlay of heaven's treasure, the accumulated love and wealth of eternity, the totality of God's righteousness. When we raise our little minds to comprehend the gospel, we are surveying the biggest thing in the universe — the righteousness of God Himself. And it is by His righteousness, all of His righteousness, and nothing less than all of it, that sinners are justified.

Again we ask, by whose righteousness are sinners justified? By God's righteousness alone! And how much of God's righteousness does it require to justify sinners? All of it! Such is the value of the sacrifice made on Calvary. If one could collect all the righteousness of all the angels and all the saints and total it together, it would be as nothing compared to the incomprehensible and infinite righteousness which was poured out for the salvation of guilty sinners. Such is the righteousness which is "unto all and upon all them that believe" in Jesus.

Justified by Righteousness Imputed

Once we grasp the truth that it is God's righteousness which justifies, and that it requires all of it to justify, we can appreciate Paul's doctrine of justification by the imputation of righteousness. The great error of Romanism consists in the idea that a sinner can be justified by having righteousness poured into him. As if the full glory and dimension of God's righteousness could be reduced to an intra-human experience! How could the little human temple contain the sum total of the accumulated treasure of eternity? Thus does the mind of antichrist try to reduce the unspeakable gift of God (2 Cor. 9:15) to something no bigger than a little human experience.

Imagine yourself standing beside the mighty Amazon River, awed by the sheer vastness of its ceaseless stream. Then in your thirst you step down to its bank with your little cup. Would you be foolish enough to think that you could contain it all in your stomach? Yet that Amazon is only a little thing in this little dot of a world, which is only a dot in our solar system; and our solar system is but a speck in the great galaxies of the universe. But above, beyond and greater than all, is the mighty God and His righteousness; and even ten thousand million Amazons could only faintly portray the mightiness of His righteousness. Yet all of it has been poured out as a mighty stream of grace for my justification; and it requires all of it, and nothing less than all of it, to justify me, a sinner. Therefore, in order to be justified by an infused righteousness, I would be confronted with something more impossible than drinking one million Amazons. Remember, it takes the whole stream of God's grace to give me right standing with God. Therefore I could never contain enough in my experience in order to be justified.

If you received the news that you had inherited a gift of thirty billion dollars, would you run to collect it in a couple of suitcases? Why, it would be so vast that you could only deposit it in your account at the bank. So God's gift of righteousness in Jesus Christ is so incomprehensibly vast that He credits it to him who believes and receives Jesus as a personal Savior. The little human temple is far too small, too finite, to contain all of the immeasurable wealth of God's favor; yet God freely imputes all of it for the believer's justification:

"But to him that worketh not, but believeth on Him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness. Even as David also describeth the blessedness of the man, unto whom God imputeth righteousness without works . . ." Rom. 4:5, 6.

The Believer's Righteousness Is in Heaven

Since the little human temple cannot contain all of the righteousness of God, it is utterly impossible to stand justified by a "within" righteousness. There is only one temple great enough to contain this saving righteousness, and that is the temple in heaven (Rev. 11:19). And more glorious yet, there is a Man in that temple who contains the sum total of God's righteousness. This is the mystery of the incarnation. That Man is the God-Man, and in Him dwells "all the fullness of the Godhead bodily." Col. 2:9. Therefore our justification may be found only in Him (See Isa. 45:24).

Thus, it is most certain that the righteousness which gives believers right standing with God is found only in heaven, only in one Man. Indeed, the righteousness of the saints is Christ Himself, as Jeremiah 23:6 declares, "This is His name whereby He shall be called, THE LORD OUR RIGHTEOUSNESS."

Justifying righteousness is not found on earth, but millions of light years away. Justifying righteousness is never found in the believer, but it always remains outside of and extrinsic to him. The righteousness which is of faith does not try to bring that righteousness down to earth (Rom. 10:6), but the word of faith which is preached in the gospel enables man to believe "unto righteousness." Rom. 10:10. Faith reaches beyond this earth, enters heaven itself, and embracing that Man at God's right hand, declares, "This is my Righteousness."

God has mercifully placed the treasure of our righteousness in heaven. No moth can eat it, no rust can corrupt it, and no thief can steal it. This righteousness is tried and tested. It can never fail, for it is everlasting. The only thing we need is faith in it. If our faith lays hold on this heavenly treasure, one day God will take us to where our righteousness is. In the meantime we must be content to have this righteousness only by faith. If on the other hand we follow the mind of antichrist by trying to bring this righteousness down to this earth, God will leave us on this earth to perish with the man of sin.

The Reformation Concept of Righteousness by Faith

God revealed the Pauline teaching of righteousness by faith to Martin Luther, and with it he blazed the trail from the darkness of Romanism. His was the clearest voice in Christendom on justification by faith since the days of the apostle Paul. Said Luther:

"This, then, is the amazing definition of Christian righteousness. It is the divine imputing or accounting for righteousness or unto righteousness because of faith in Christ or for Christ's sake. When the sophists hear this definition, they laugh, because they imagine righteousness to be a certain quality that is poured into the soul and then spread into all the parts of man. . . . Therefore this unspeakable gift excels all reason: God accounts and acknowledges him as righteous without any works who apprehends His Son by faith alone." — What Luther Says, compiled by Ewald M. Plass, vol.3, pp.1229-1230.

When the troubled soul of John Bunyan heard a voice saying, "Your righteousness is in heaven," he was delivered from darkness and stepped into the light of the righteousness which is of faith. This soul, who breathed the very atmosphere of heaven in Bedford jail, expressed the same concepts as Martin Luther.

Wrote Bunyan:

"Indeed this is one of the greatest mysteries in the world — namely, that a righteousness that resides with a person in heaven should justify me, a sinner, on earth."— Justification by an Imputed Righteousness (Swengel, Penn.: Reiner Publications, 1967).

"That this righteousness still resides in and with the person of Christ, even then when we stand just before God thereby, is clear, for that we are said when justified to be justified 'in him.' — In the Lord shall all the seed of Israel be justified.' And again: 'Surely, shall one say, in the Lord have I righteousness,' &c. And again: 'For of him are ye in Christ Jesus, who is made unto us of God righteousness,' Isa. 14.24-25; 1 Cor. 1.30

"Mark, the righteousness is still 'in him,' not 'in us'; even then when we are made partakers of the benefit of it, even as the wing and feathers still abide in the hen when the chickens are covered, kept, and warmed thereby…

"It is absolutely necessary that this be known of us; for if the understanding be muddy as to this, it is impossible that such should be sound in the faith; also in temptation, that man will be at a loss that looketh for righteousness for justification in himself, when it is to be found nowhere but in Jesus Christ." — Ibid.

"…Men can be justified from the curse before God while sinners in themselves by no other righteousness than that long ago performed by, and remaining with, the person of Christ.

"The righteousness by which we stand just before God from the curse was performed by the person of Christ… This righteousness is inherent only in him. . ." — Ibid. p.60.

"Look, then, upon Christ as the man, the mediator, undertaker, and accomplisher of the righteousness in himself, wherein thou must stand just before God; and that he is the covenant or conditions of the people to Godward, always having in himself the righteousness that the law is well pleased with, and always presenting himself before God as our only righteousness." —Ibid. p.70

The righteousness which is imputed to the believer in Jesus gives him a standing with God higher than the standing enjoyed by Adam in his sinless state. It gives him a higher standing than the angels. It raises him in the scale of moral value to be on an equality with Jesus Christ. Such is the gift of God's justifying righteousness, which comes by the faith of Jesus Christ. Yet it is in heaven, not on earth; outside of us, never within the greatest saint; in Jesus Christ, and no one but Jesus Christ.

The Gift of the Spirit

But says one, "Don't you believe that righteousness must be inwrought in the human character? What about the believer's sanctification?" To which we answer, We certainly believe in the necessity of moral renovation within man. Christians will live righteously in this present evil world. But the most excellent virtues within the saints have no part in their justification before God. The law requires a far more excellent righteousness than is found within any man's experience.

It is most important to observe that Paul never confuses the saving righteousness of God with the work of grace upon the hearts of God's people. Paul speaks of two gifts: the gift of righteousness (Rom. 5:17), and the gift of the Spirit (Rom.5:5). In the book of Romans Paul shows that this gift of righteousness is imputed (credited), and the Spirit is imparted (infused). The gift of righteousness places the believer in such favorable standing with God that he is given access to the gift of the Holy Spirit. Romans 5:1-5 shows that the Spirit is poured in the heart as a result of justification. Or as Paul says in Romans 8:10, the Spirit brings life "because you have been justified." N.E.B.

The Spirit is poured upon believers on no other basis than the righteousness of Christ. It is not bestowed because of men's attainments, but because of Christ's atonement. Nothing but the doing and dying of Christ can entitle anyone to receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. But when a sinner grasps by faith the sacrifice of Christ in His behalf, God's righteousness is upon him. He appears before God not only as if he had never sinned, but he is clothed with more moral excellence than the angel Gabriel.

The Spirit reproduces in the life of the believer the attributes of the character of Christ. He stirs him up to all manner of diligence, making him willing to do and to die for the Master. But none of these virtues, be it ever so excellent, justifies the believer. They are not the cause of his right standing with God, but the fruit of it.

The Holy Spirit does not come to speak of Himself (John 16:13). There is a reason for not knowing His name. He comes only to glorify Christ. It is His work to create faith in Jesus, and to lead the believer from one measure of faith to another measure of faith (Rom. 1:17). The just lives by faith in his Righteousness which is up in heaven, and it is the Spirit's work to create, maintain and strengthen that faith. The more the Spirit works within a believer, the more it will lead him to rely on that righteousness which is outside, above and beyond him. The Spirit will never lead a man to look within his own experience for salvation. As John Bunyan testified:

"As for thy saying that salvation is Christ within, if thou mean in opposition to Christ without, instead of pleading for Christ thou wilt plead against him; for Christ, God-man, without on the cross, did bring in salvation for sinners; and the right believing of that justifies the soul. Therefore Christ within or the Spirit of him who did give himself a ransom, doth not work out justification for the soul in the soul, but doth lead the soul out of itself and out of what can be done within itself, to look for salvation in that man that is now absent from his saints on earth…. "And indeed they that will follow Christ aright must follow him without, to the cross without, for justification on Calvary without — that is, they must seek for justification by his obedience without — to the grave without, and to his ascension and intercession in heaven without; and this must be done through the operation of his own Holy Spirit that he has promised shall show these things unto them, being given within them for that purpose. Now the Spirit of Christ, that leads also; but whither? It leads to Christ without." — The Riches of Bunyan (New York: The American Tract Society, 1850), pp.142, 143.

"… if you do not put a difference between justification wrought by the Man Christ without, and sanctification wrought by the Spirit of Christ within .. . you are not able to divide the word aright; but contrariwise, you corrupt the word of God, and cast stumbling blocks before the people, and will certainly one day most deeply smart for your folly, except you repent." — Ibid, p.140.

True sanctification, being an inward work, is for the most part invisible and imperceptible to the one who experiences it. It may be illustrated by this physical fact— we can see others, but we cannot see ourselves. So it is in the spiritual realm. It is our work to behold Christ, to rejoice that He is our righteousness, and to rest in the fact that His righteousness is all-sufficient.